England's Victorian Era, Written for Children
Britain's Victorian era is the time of Queen Victoria's reign, from her coronation in 1837 until her death in 1901. Her reign is the lengthiest of any British monarch in history, and saw vast changes in technology and culture.
The Victorian era was mostly a time of peace for the British Empire, Pax Britannica. The era saw a political and social shift toward more liberal ideals. England's population nearly doubled in the last fifty years of Victoria's rule. This is due to fewer combat wars and improvements in medical advancements during the era.
During the Victorian era communication and travel were greatly enhanced, resulting in greater prosperity for manufactured goods, as well as the explosion of support industries for new modes of travel, such as trains and steam boats. The coal industry in particular grew much larger, to the point that staffing the mines with adults was not possible. Children, as young as five years old were used to gain access into the mines, with little or no care being given to their health and future consequences. They were also used in other quickly growing industries, such as cotton mills and in the creation of other household and luxury goods.
Near the end of the Victorian era child labour issues became prevalent causes for concern, and legislatures began regulating the length of time and types of work children were permitted to perform. These reforms were slow to catch on, but slowly working conditions for Britain's poorest families' children improved.
It was not only industry that took a leap forward during the Victorian era. Medical knowledge and practices also improved. For the first time anesthetic was being widely used in dental practices and in other areas. Queen Victoria herself furthered the cause of painless medicine by using chloroform during the birth of her eighth child. The Victorian also brought the awareness of the need for cleanliness and sterility during the practice of medicine, and for the first time hospital staff washed hands and wore gloves during surgery, and surgical tools and dressings were cleaned before and after use.
One down side to the increase in manufactured goods and industrial growth was the expansion of the poverty class, the working poor. Companies were suddenly faced with huge employee numbers requiring payment, and wages were kept to the bare minimum. Those who were previously mildly wealthy were the new middle class, and mansions of the former rich were being turned into flats, with landlords keeping profits rather than using the rent to upkeep the properties. Soon urban areas were littered with slums.
Even though life was not prosperous for all levels of British society, there were popular forms of entertainment for all income levels. From the upper levels' enjoyment of theatre, arts, music and opera to the gambling casinos that opened to brass bands performing free of charge for anyone who happened to be in the area, there was something for everyone. Naturalists went bird and butterfly watching, and thanks to the Bank Holiday Act of 1871, everyone was given days off from work during which vacations could be enjoyed.
The Victorian era saw many changes in society. Some were positive, some negative, all profound.
See more on children in Victorian Britain here.
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One in a series of articles about History written for children. Check out our Victorian clothing for children inside.
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